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345,000 Alabamians applied for unemployment over the last six weeks

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Another 66,432 Alabamians filed an initial jobless claim last week, bringing the total since the week ending March 14 up to 345,863 or about 15 percent of the state’s total labor force in February 2020, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

The number of people who filed a jobless claim during the past six weeks is far more than at any point since at least 1987. The U.S. Department of Labor’s weekly unemployment claims data only goes back to 1987 for Alabama.

The majority of initial jobless claims filed during the week ending April 18 were from employees in the manufacturing sector (9,770), accommodation and food services (6,685), retail trade (5,540) and health care and social assistance (5,367). Jefferson County had the largest number of claims with 9,611.

59,527 of the 66,432 claims this past week were “COVID-19 related,” the Labor Department said.

The surge of jobless claims is unprecedented in American history. The Great Recession played out much more slowly with job losses spread out over the course of 2007, 2008 and 2009.

The Alabama Hospitality Association has estimated that some 225,000 hotel and restaurant workers will be laid off during the COVID-19 crisis. Last month, the Economic Policy Institute’s conservative projections estimated that nearly 200,000 people could lose their jobs in Alabama, and the reality has already far exceeded their projections.

The number of weekly unemployment claims filed has slowed since the week ending April 4, when 106,739 people filed a jobless claim. During the previous week, 77,515 people filed a claim.

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  • 3/14/20 – 1,824
  • 3/21/20 – 12,369
  • 3/28/20 – 80,984
  • 4/4/20 – 106,739
  • 4/11/20 – 77,515
  • 4/18/20 – 66,432

The jump in unemployment claims is straining agencies across the country including in Alabama. Alabamians have reported difficulty in filing claims, and the Alabama Department of Labor has repeatedly asked for “patience” as they try to work through the record number of unemployment claims.

The Department of Labor has launched a new unemployment claims tracker, which allows individuals to see the status of their claims.

During the crisis, the Alabama Department of Labor is reminding unemployment claimants that if their employer calls them back in, they must accept work.

To remain eligible for unemployment benefits, federal law requires that those who have been placed on a temporary layoff related to the COVID-19 pandemic must return to work if called back.

Not returning to work when there is available work could be considered a “refusal of work” and could potentially disqualify claimants from receiving unemployment insurance benefits, the Labor Department said.

“It’s important for workers to know that if their employer reopens or otherwise calls them back to work, they must do so, unless they have a good work-related cause for not returning,” said Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “Quitting work without good cause to obtain additional benefits under the regular unemployment program or CARES Act programs qualifies as fraud.”

Written By

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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